Why on-base percentage? For those in standard rotisserie or points leagues, why do you care about on-base percentage? Because in most roto formats, runs are a category, and you can't score without getting on base. Stolen bases are a category, and you can't steal without getting on base (cut to frustrated Austin Jackson owners).
These are not necessarily sleepers to have amazing, breakout years. These are guys who are being drafted in the mid to late rounds and will get on base to help you in multiple ways.
Some of these players are going as late as they are due to poor 2011 seasons, and they wouldn't be listed here if I didn't expect some level of bounce back, at least enough to make their current draft position a legitimate bargain.
In 2009, Shin-Soo Choo hit .300 with 20 home runs, 21 SB and a .394 OBP (also 86 RBI and 87 runs). In 2010, Choo hit .300 with 22 home runs, 22 SB and a .401 OBP (90 RBI, 81 runs).
After battling injuries and only managing 85 games in 2011, Choo is falling in drafts. How easily people forget a .300/20/20/80/80 guy after one season of struggles. A high BABIP received some of the credit for his batting averages, but even at .280, with an OBP around .390, Choo is still a safe 20/20 player.
Considering the risk/reward type players available later in drafts, a guy like Choo can help prevent ulcers for fantasy owners. Plug him in everyday and know he will likely be on base for you, either stealing bases, scoring runs or both.
Another player being overlooked after a bad season, Jayson Werth's .388 OBP in 2010 was 14th among all qualified hitters and fifth among outfielders. Don't forget he hit 27 home runs with 85 RBI, scored 106 runs and batted .296 that year.
In fact, going back another year, Werth might have been even better in 2009 despite a .268 average that sits closer to his career mark of .264. Werth hit 36 home runs with 99 RBI and 98 runs scored that year.
Before 2011, Werth had an OBP over .370 in three straight seasons. Also notice he has 72 steals in the last four seasons combined. That's 18 per season on average. Expect 2010 numbers, with his 2009 average in 2012.
Dee Gordon could have one stolen base for every 10 at-bats he gets this season. He's that fast. And in the Ichiro Suzuki mold, guys with this level of speed get on base a lot. That's because routine ground balls must be hurried to first. Either they beat the throw, or it is often thrown away by the fielder.
Gordon is going to bat leadoff in a Dodgers lineup with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier behind him. This is a guy that could score 60 bases and cruise to 90 runs. The only problem will be strikeouts. With guys like this, fantasy owners merely hope they can make some kind of contact.
Gordon won't hit for any power at all. But he should roll, bunt and slap into enough singles, steal second and score on bloop singles to make him worth your shortstop position in fantasy.
Speaking of Suzuki, Ichiro's .310 OBP last season was a career-worst, and he still stole 40 bases for the third time in four years. If that even approaches his career .370 number, he has shown he still has the speed to get around the bases.
This season, Suzuki has been moved into the Mariners' three-hole, more of a sign of Seattle's lack of offense than Ichiro's power, but still a nice sign for fantasy owners because, along with the predictable steals and runs scored, he could jump to 70-80 RBI.
Now, he has never topped 70 RBI in his career, but he has also batted leadoff the entire time. In 2005, he had 15 HR and 68 RBI, and while he is 38 years old, the 40 steals at 37 seems to hint his legs are still with him.
Carlos Pena, since 2007 has 172 HR, 474 BB, and 790 strikeouts. He also has a .236 average and yet still pulls a .366 OBP and an OPS over .870 in that time frame.
Know what you are getting when you draft this all-or-nothing player because the walks are a lost art in baseball and pad a player's on-base percentage in an underappreciated way. Pena won't steal bases like the others on this list, but 30 home runs are all but assured. Then consider his 90 walks and realize, if he slots into the Rays fourth spot, he has capable hitters behind him to add to the runs scored.
Drafting Pena is knowing you will need to find batting average elsewhere, but the on-base percentage shows its value here. Don't overlook it.
Who was 10th among all batters last year in on-base percentage? You guessed it. Alex Avila posted a .389 OBP to go with 19 home runs, 82 RBI and a .295 AVG.
Avila is also going to be batting behind Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and (one of my sleepers this season) Brennan Boesch in the Tigers order. There will be ducks on the pond for this top-10 fantasy catcher.
However, Avila is falling in drafts, mainly because everyone agrees that after the top group, catchers can be waited on. Avila is a bargain at his current draft position and will be a multi-category value to your fantasy team.
One of the most underappreciated safe plays in fantasy baseball, Nick Swisher has been a model of consistency since his first year of full-time at-bats. Some may look at the batting average and turn up their noses, but they simply miss out on a treasure.
Look at Swisher since his first full year (2005), which is seven seasons. He has been over 20 home runs all seven years. Sixty-nine or more RBI all seven years and has three straight years over 80 now. He has walked 80 or more times in five of the last six years. He's had an OBP over .370 four of the last six years. He's scored 80 or more runs in six straight years. And equally valuable, he's played 150 or more games in six straight years.
No one needs to tell you he is in a lineup full of run producers, so a .370 OBP means a lock for 80 runs scored, as well as his bankable 20 home runs and 80 RBI. There is value in safety.